Desperate Measures





If Moran or Helen, early in their conversation, had looked out of the

window of the hotel, during one of those vivid lightning flashes, they

might have seen a woman stealthily approaching the agent's office across

the street. Taking advantage of the deeper shadows and of the darkness

between lightning flashes, she stole to the rear of the building, where

she found an unlatched window, through which she scrambled with the

agility of a boy.



Within, the place was pitch dark, but like one amid familiar

surroundings, she crossed the hall and found the room she sought; the

office room now of Moran, but formerly occupied by Simon Barsdale. She

bent over the big safe, and was twirling the combination knob in her

slim, cold fingers, when she was startled by a noise in the hallway

outside. With a gasp of fright, she stood motionless, listening acutely,

but there was no further sound; reassured, she produced a bit of candle,

which she lighted and placed to one side of the safe, so that the flame

was shaded from the windows. She was in the act of manipulating the

combination again when, her whole body rigid with fear, she stood erect

once more, holding her breath and striving for self-control. There was

no doubt about the noise this time. Some one had entered the adjoining

room.



Hastily snuffing out the candle, she crouched into the darkness of a

corner. She never doubted that the newcomer was Race Moran, or that he

would almost immediately discover her. She tried to summon enough

resolution to bluff things through when the moment of discovery should

come.



But, as the seconds slipped by and the lights were not turned on, she

began to regain her courage. Perhaps Moran was sitting in the dark of

the other room, smoking and thinking, and perhaps she could complete her

task without being caught, if she moved swiftly and silently. She bent

again over the shining knob, at the same time watching in the direction

of the door, which was still closed as she had left it. It was difficult

to work the lock in the dark, and, as she became engrossed with her

purpose, she ceased temporarily to listen acutely. She had just

succeeded in effecting the combination, when something touched her side.



"Don't move!" a voice hissed behind her. "I'll shoot if you do!"



She wanted to cry out, "Please don't shoot!" but her tongue clove to the

roof of her mouth, which had suddenly gone dry. She had fallen forward

against the door of the safe, and was curiously conscious how cold it

felt. She was on the point of fainting, when in a rush of relief it

dawned upon her that she knew the voice; it was not Moran's.



"Gordon!" she cried joyously, finding the use of her tongue as quickly

as she had lost it, and scrambling to her feet. "It's me--Dorothy!"



With an exclamation as joyous as her own and equally surprised, he

seized her by the shoulders, peering through the darkness into her face.



"Dorothy! What the...?" A lightning flash revealed them clearly to each

other. "I told you not to try this."



"But what are you doing in town?" She clutched his arms, overcome by a

fear greater than that for her own safety. "Gordon, Gordon, you must not

stay here. There's a warrant out for you--no, no, not for that--for the

Jensen shooting. You'll be arrested on sight."



"What?" He stared at her, amazed, and she nodded. "So that's their game

now, eh? They've stooped even to that. By God!" He struck a match.



"Be careful," she warned him instantly. "The light--put it out. They'll

see it from the street. But, oh, Gordon, why did you come?"



He thrilled at the anxiety in her voice.



"To find out what Moran is hiding here; and you're after the same thing,

of course."



"Yes."



Impulsively, he squeezed her fingers, until she could have cried out in

pain but for the sweetness of it; there are some agonies which do not

hurt. Her throat swelled with joy, her breast heaved, and her eyelids

fluttered. She was grateful for the darkness, which hid these outward

signs of love from him. She blushed; she could feel the warm tide

pulsing in her temples; and she laughed brokenly from sheer happiness.



"You shouldn't have taken such a risk, Dorothy. I told you not to."



"You're taking that risk, Gordon, and more."



"That's different. It's so dark a night, I thought I'd chance it."



"There's not much risk for me," she declared. "I can reach home in five

minutes. Isn't it odd, though, that we both should have thought of doing

it at exactly the same time. But come, Gordon, we must hurry!"



Now that the safe was open, to remove its contents took only a moment,

and they tossed all the papers they found into a corner. Then, when Wade

had swung the safe around on its casters, they had a snug shelter behind

it, where by shaded candle-light they ran rapidly through their loot.

Most of the documents related to land purchases and development, but at

the bottom of the pile Wade came upon a bundle of papers and

blue-prints, held together by a rubber band, which he stripped off.



"Oh, if we should find nothing, after all," Dorothy whispered, bending

with him over the blue-prints. "What are they, Gordon?"



"Maps of my own range, Dorothy!" His tone was tense with excitement, as

he leaned nearer to the light. "Well, what do you know about that? By

Heaven"--He fairly glared at the sheet before his eyes.--"It's all

there!"



"What's all there? What is it?"



"Gold!" He looked at her in the flickering light, like a man gone mad.



"Gold? On your range? Oh, Gordon!"



"Yes; on my range. It's inconceivable, almost; but it seems to be true.

See! Look here!" Their heads were almost touching, so that her soft hair

caressed his face. "This is a map of the upper valley, and the

description says these red crosses indicate the location of gold. One is

near the head of Piah Creek, not half a mile from my buildings."



"Oh, Gordon, I am so glad!" Dorothy exclaimed. "How wonderful it all

is. You'll be rich, won't you?" She was not too excited to remember that

his wealth would probably be shared by another woman, but she was too

generous to be any the less glad on that account.



"That remains to be seen," he replied. "It may not prove to amount to

much, you know. At any rate, Moran won't get any of it. That's worth a

whole lot."



She nodded vehemently.



"I thought it must be something like that, Gordon. They would never have

done the things they have without some powerful reason."



"Yes, you were right, Dorothy. You're usually right." He caught her hand

and squeezed it again, and in this moment of their triumph together she

could not help returning the pressure. "You're a jewel, a brick, a

trump--all those things and then some. The sweet...."



"Now, we haven't time for that sort of thing, Mr. Man. We...."



"Must get away while we can, yes," he finished for her. "But just the

same I...."



Her cold fingers on his lips stopped him.



"Listen!"



She put out the candle and they crouched down beside the safe. Some one

was coming up the stairs, not stealthily this time but boldly, as one

who had a right there, whistling softly. Wade could feel the girl's

shoulder tremble against his side, as he slipped his revolver out of its

holster.



"Don't, Gordon! You--you mustn't shoot, no matter what happens." Her

teeth were chattering, for she was far more frightened now than she had

been for herself alone. "That's Moran. He mustn't see you here. Remember

that warrant. Hide behind the safe. Please!"



"Never!" he muttered grimly. "He'd find us anyhow."



"Yes, yes. Please!" She was almost hysterical in her excitement. "I can

bluff him till you can get away. He won't hurt me. If he does you can

show yourself. Do it for me, for your friends. Please! Remember, he

mustn't know that you've learned his secret."



It was Moran, for they heard him now in conversation with some passer-by

in the hallway. Dorothy was grateful for the respite, for it gave them

time to throw the loose papers back into the safe and close it. Wade

then pushed the safe to its original position, the casters making little

noise as they rolled. Then he crouched behind it.



"I don't like this stunt!" he protested; but yielded to her beseeching

"Please." She was right, too, he knew. It would be far better if Moran

could be kept in ignorance of his visit there.



The office now bore little sign of their invasion of it, and, drawing a

deep breath, Dorothy schooled herself to calmness as she awaited Moran,

who was walking down the hall toward the entrance to the room. A plan

had flashed into her mind by means of which she might save both Wade and

herself, if he and her heart would only be quiet. The unruly heart was

beating so violently that it shook her thin dress, and that her voice

must tremble, she knew.



Moran was almost at the threshold, when Dorothy opened the door for him.



"Good evening, Mr. Moran. Did I startle you?"



"Well, not exactly," he said, striking a match, after an instant's

pause. "What are you doing here?"



Passing her, he lighted the large oil lamp, and swept the room with a

quick, keen glance. Finding nothing apparently wrong, he turned again to

his visitor with a puzzled expression in his face.



"Well?"



"I wanted to see you and I thought you'd be here. The door was unlocked

so I just walked in. I've been here only a minute or two." Fortified by

another deep breath, drawn while his back was turned, Dorothy found her

voice steadier than she expected.



The agent looked at her keenly.



"That's strange," he commented. "I don't know what the door was doing

unlocked. I always lock it when I leave."



"You must have forgotten to do so to-night."



"I surely must have, if you found it open."



Half convinced that she was telling the truth, Moran could see but one

reason for her evident fright: she was afraid of him. The suggestion of

that strengthened the impulse which her beauty stirred in him. If she

thought so, why not?



"Say, you're a good-looking kid, all right," he leered. "What did you

want to see me for?"



A slight sound from behind the safe, or perhaps she imagined it, caused

Dorothy's heart to flutter wildly. She had not anticipated this attitude

in Moran, and she instantly realized that it brought a fresh danger into

the situation. She knew that Wade would not remain in concealment if the

agent insulted her. She must avoid the chance of that, if possible; must

get him out of the office so that Gordon might escape.



"This is no place to talk that way," she said bravely. "It isn't a good

place for me to be anyway. If people knew I was here, there would be a

terrible scandal. I've something important to tell you. Won't you come

for a walk?"



"In this rain? Not much," he chuckled. "Come here!" She shook her head

and tried to smile. "Well, if you won't, I'll have to go to you." She

shrank back from him, as he approached her, with an evil smile. "Say,

little one," he went on, "this is a damned funny game of yours, coming

here at night. What's the idea, eh?"



"There isn't any, really." She snatched her hands away from him. "I've

already tried to explain that I have important news for you; but I won't

tell you what it is here."



"Why not? We're dry and cozy here. Go ahead."



"No."



"Oh, come on!" He had driven her to the wall, and now he slipped an arm

about her waist and pulled her toward him. "Say, kiss me once, won't

you?"



"Hands up, you low-lived hound!"



With an oath, Moran whirled around to find himself staring into the

muzzle of Wade's revolver. The ranchman moved his weapon significantly.



"Up!"



As the agent's hands went above his head, Dorothy leaned against the

wall for support. She had not made a sound, but she was the color of

chalk, and her heart seemed to be trying to jump out of her mouth. She

was no whiter than Wade, whose fury had driven every vestige of color

from his face and fired his eyes with a murderous light.



"Shall I kill him?" he asked Dorothy, and at the frightful tone of his

voice she found the power to shake her head, although her mouth was too

dry for speech.



"Take his gun," said Wade sharply and the girl stepped forward.



She reeled toward Moran, who, to do him justice, showed little fear,

and pulled his revolver from his hip pocket. She held it out to Wade,

who broke it with his free hand by pressing the butt against the top of

the safe, and spilled the cartridges on the floor.



"Now you can leave us, Dorothy," he said quietly.



"No. I'll stay, Gordon," she answered.



"Moran," Wade continued evenly, without paying any more attention to

her, "the only reason why I shall not kill you is because Miss Purnell

does not want your worthless life upon her conscience. A man like you

ought to die. You're not fit to live."



"Can I put my hands down?"



"No; keep 'em where they are!" Wade gestured again with the gun. "I wish

I had a string on each of your thumbs so I could hoist them higher. I've

just been through this safe of yours." The agent started. "I've got

those maps of my range in my pocket."



"Much good they'll do you."



"They'll do me more good alive than they will you dead, and you're going

to die. So help me God, you are! We'll come together again some day."



"I hope so," Moran declared venomously, and even Dorothy was struck by

the courage he showed.



"And then there won't be anybody to be held responsible but me." Wade

grinned in a slow, horrible fashion. "It'll rest light on me, I promise

you. And another thing. I'm going to leave you trussed up here in this

office, like I left your friend the Sheriff a few days ago, and along

about morning somebody'll find you and turn you loose. When you get

loose, you want to forget that you saw Miss Purnell here to-night. I've

meant to have her and her mother leave town for a bit until this mess

blows over, but things aren't fixed right for that just now. Instead,

I'm going to leave her in the personal care--the personal care, you

understand me, of every decent man in Crawling Water. If anything

happens to her, you'll toast over a slow fire before you die. Do you get

that?"



"She's a good kid," said Moran, with a grin. Nor did he flinch when the

weapon in Wade's hand seemed actually to stiffen under the tension of

his grasp.



"I guess it's a good thing you stayed, Dorothy," the latter remarked

grimly. "This fellow must be tied up. I wonder what we can find to do it

with?"



"My cloak?" Dorothy suggested. "It's an old one."



He shook his head.



"It's hard to tear that rain-proof stuff, and besides you'd get wet

going home. There's no sense in that. Isn't there something else?"



She blushed a little and turned away for a moment, during which she

slipped off her underskirt. Then, as Moran watched her cynically, she

tore it into strips. When she had thus made several stout bands, Wade

spoke again.



"You take the first throw or two about him," he directed, "and when you

have him partly tied you can take my gun and I'll finish the job. Start

with his feet, that's right. Now draw it as tight as you can. Put your

arms down back of you! Tie them now, Dorothy. That's fine! Here, you

take the gun. You know how to use it, if he struggles."



Wade tightened up the linen bands, and kicked forward a straight-backed

chair, into which he forced Moran and lashed him fast there, to all of

which the agent made no great protest, knowing that to do so would be

useless. He grunted and swore a bit under his breath, but that was all.

When he was well trussed up, the ranchman made a gag out of what was

left of the linen and his own handkerchief and strapped it into his

prisoner's mouth with his belt.



When the job was done, and it was a good one, he grinned again in that

slow, terrible way. A grin that bore no semblance to human mirth, but

was a grimace of combined anger and hatred. Once before, during the

fight at the ranch, Bill Santry had seen this expression on his

employer's face, but not to the degree that Dorothy now saw it. It

frightened her.



"Oh, Gordon, don't, please!" She closed her eyes to shut out the sight.

"Come, we must hurry away."



"Good night," Wade said ironically, with a last look at Moran.



He let Dorothy draw him away then, and by the time they reached the

street he was his old boyish self again. Aping Moran, he slipped his arm

around her waist, but she did not shrink from his embrace, unexpected

though it was.



"Say, kid," he laughed mockingly. "Kiss me once, won't you?"





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